Monday, July 31, 2006

A good book you may have missed

If you are still on Summer break from your school, you are probably not a librarian. Looking for that good novel to read, before going back to curriculums and standardized testing? John J. Miller, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has a suggestion that I must second: Yevgeny Zamyatin's largely unknown book "We."

Zamyatin's dystopian novel is said to have influenced both Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "1984." If you read all three books (and you should) the similarities between "We" and the two more famous novels is striking. All the moreso since "Brave New World" and "1984" are very different novels in both tone and content; they simply share the now-standard elements of the sub-genre dystopian literature. But while these two familiar books are unalike, they each bear some likeness to "We."

I've never seen "We" on a Banned Books Week list or table, either in a library or a Barnes & Noble. While this may be due the book being less known than some other "banned" books (which are so banned that you cannot walk into a library or bookstore without tripping over the damn things), there is also the book's lack of pedigree, so to speak. Unlike "Brave New World," Zamyatin's novel cannot be read, or deconstructed, in any way that diminishes its anti-Communist charactor, a fact that would have doomed the book, even in the United States, during the cold war, when "anti-Soviet" attitudes were considered uncouth or even fascistic.

True, Orwell took his knocks from the lefty establishement, and had some trouble publishing both "Animal Farm" and "1984" at first. But Orwell had (then) unimpeachable lefty credentials, which included having fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Orwell also, despite his vehement and cogent attacks on Stalinism, considered himself a socialist and a "man of the left." Zamyatin went from being considered a loyal communist to being denounced as a counter-revolutionary parasite in a very short period.

Although Zamyatin finished "We" in 1921 it was not published in his native Russia until 1988.

Miller's review contains many tid-bits of information on Zamyatin and his famous novel. His review is a welcome reminder that many authors have suffered for their work, often in ways much more cruel than finding out your novel of teenage sex has been "banned" from the local elementary school library.

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